New York’s Taxi King, Gene Friedman, hasn’t had the best few years.
By 2013, he owned 860 taxi medallions in the city, plus vehicles in Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.
He had fought bitter public battles against Rudy Giuliani’s administration and sued the city and Michael Bloomberg personally during Bloomberg’s administration.
Friedman personally raised $50,000 for Bill de Blasio’s campaign, presumably deciding that if the city was going to meddle in the taxi market, he wanted a seat at the table.
Friedman was also busy in his personal life, and things seemed promising for him there.
Though he was in his early 40s, he fell in love in the south of France and married wife Sandra Friedman, then 21. The two soon welcomed a daughter, Leyla, and were living in his $4.8 million, three floor, 4,000 square foot townhouse on the Upper East Side between Lexington and Third Avenue.
Despite a fortune of some $300 million, problems soon developed. He was an intense workaholic, the son of Russian immigrants who’d built an empire with his own vision and hard work, and she was a young woman in New York City who wanted to spend more time out partying with her husband.
Though he had fought mayors and regulators, it was around this time that Friedman’s taxi kingdom was put to its fiercest test yet.
As Uber emerged in the city, the price of medallions began to plummet and Friedman’s life took a decidedly darker turn. Efforts to influence Mayor de Blasio’s Uber and taxi policies hadn’t resulted in the wins he needed to hold everything together.
In March of 2015, Sandra accused him of slamming her into a wall and he was charged with Attempted Assault, Obstruction of Breathing, and Harassment.
A two year order of protection was put into place, and Friedman moved out from the couple’s home to comply with its no-contact rules. His wife and daughter stayed put.
He learned the next month that he was being divorced when the New York Post contacted him for comment on his wife’s filing. He had not yet been served with the papers.
Sandra Friedman, then 24, was born in Moscow and grew up in Paris. She graduated from Columbia, where she studied journalism, but considered herself a stay-at-home mom to their child, then a year and a half old.
The couple had signed an iron-clad prenup before marrying, which entitled her to a number of concessions, including $5 million, $31,000 a month in spousal support, and the town house.
It appears that not everything was worked out in the prenup, and in a May court date, he resisted Justice Tandra Dawson’s order that he pay an additional $25,000 a month in child support.
He noted that he had already handed over $100,000 in cash and paid all the bills, including maid service, on the town house.
The judge also addressed allegations from Sandra that Gene had used cocaine. She ordered him to submit to three random drug screenings between that appearance and the next scheduled court date on June 30.
The hardest blow may have been the last one, when she gave permission for Sandra to take Leyla to Paris for 10 days, despite Gene’s fears that the two might not return.
While he was fighting with his wife in court, Citibank was coming after him for delinquent debt by foreclosing on 90 of his medallions.
He had financed his holdings by running up the auction price on medallions, then taking out loans to pay for them at rates no one else could afford.
This was great when a medallion could sell for a million dollars or more, but as the market became more competitive, the price was falling through the floor and his creditors were running out of patience.
In July, Gene Friedman took 22 of his companies into Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of a sweeping restructuring plan. He was ordered to pay out $8 million, but four of his companies soon appeared on New York’s tax deadbeat list.
In August, the criminal case related to the March altercation came before the court, and Gene negotiated a plea deal that reduced the charge to simple harassment. This kept him out of jail, but the order of protection and its no-contact provisions remained in place.
Friedman had set up temporary quarters at Trump Park Avenue on 59th street, which he shared with his dog, Harry, and where he could park his Ferrari.
At this point, the divorce seems to have devolved into squabbles about property, with allegations that Sandra was “stealing” items from the home she was awarded through the prenup and selling them.
Gene came after her for two chandeliers that he says are worth more than $300,000. Sandra claims that Doyle New York auction house appraised the items at $13,000, which is what she sold them for.
The complaint lists 14 other items that had been sold, including a pair of gold and marble cigarette side tables and a gilded gold Louis XVI mirror, which went for $25,930.
According to the tabloid press, Gene has another year of the order of protection to contend with before he can consider seeking more normal visitation arrangements with his child and estranged wife.
Meanwhile, his business enterprises in Chicago and New York are facing lawsuits and even criminal investigations for shortchanging drivers and defrauding partners.
Gene Friedman built an empire and a family, but if the last few years are a harbinger, he may lose both for good.
Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person can go through, but it always happens in the larger context of your life.
When a perfect storm is swirling around you and all you hold dear, an experienced matrimonial attorney can be a critical life raft helping to keep you afloat.
When you’re considering divorce in Queens, contact the experienced team at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino at 718-523-1111 for a free consultation.